Unions call for European taxonomy to include nuclear

04 February 2021

Nuclear energy must be part of the European taxonomy in order to meet the objective of the Green Deal, thirteen trade unions representing energy and nuclear workers have told Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, in a joint letter. Exclusion of nuclear power will not only have a negative impact on the European nuclear industry but also on electricity-intensive industries, they said.

The unions that wrote a joint letter to EC President Ursula von der Leyen

The unions - representing workers in Belgium, Bulgaria, Finland, France, Hungary and Romania - hope their letter will draw attention to the key role of nuclear power generation in enabling Europe to achieve its objective of carbon neutrality, as well as in contributing to Europe's energy security and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. They note nuclear power currently provides almost half of the low-carbon electricity production in the European Union.

Both the International Energy Agency and the International Atomic Energy Agency have stated low-carbon nuclear is an essential component of a low-carbon economy, the letter says. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has also repeatedly reiterated that nuclear power is an indispensable part of the solution to the climate challenge.

"Such decisions based on the best available scientific advice are also economically sustainable and socially just," the unions said.

Many EU states have made it a priority to construct a new generation of nuclear reactors and to extend the operation of existing reactors, the unions noted. A new generation of small modular reactors is also emerging. Investments in the European nuclear industry are needed to provide this kind of stable electricity production to complement non-dispatchable renewable energies and to ensure the stability of the European electricity system, they wrote. "If nuclear power were to be discriminated in this context, then complementary electricity production to renewables would remain based on fossil fuel sources and low-carbon targets cannot be achieved."

It is therefore "imperative" that nuclear energy is included in the European taxonomy.

"This taxonomy should provide reliable information on activities and technologies that contribute to sustainability objectives." The exclusion of nuclear from the taxonomy would have a "strong negative impact" not only on the European nuclear industry - which provides more than a million jobs in Europe - but also on all European industries using electricity. "This exclusion, if it were to be decided, would also lead to not meeting the important criterion of technological neutrality."

The unions called for a dialogue that creates conditions for nuclear energy to meet its full potential and help build an economically efficient and socially just carbon-free Europe by 2050.

The European Commission launched its Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth in March 2018, and adopted a package of measures two months later. Then, in July 2018, a Technical Experts Group (TEG) on sustainable finance set up by the Commission began assisting it in developing a unified classification system for sustainable economic activities. The TEG published its Taxonomy Technical Report in June last year. Nuclear energy was excluded from the list of sustainable economic activities. However, in September the European Council decided to remain technology neutral in its strategy on financing sustainable growth and the transition to a low-carbon, resource-efficient economy.

On 16 December last year, the European Union agreed on a unified classification system to encourage private investment in sustainable growth and contribute to a climate neutral economy.

The taxonomy stipulates that the following environmental objectives should be considered when evaluating how sustainable an economic activity is: climate change mitigation and adaptation; sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources; transition to a circular economy; pollution prevention and control; and, protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems. Economic activities must comply with four requirements in order to qualify. These are: it must provide a substantial contribution to a least one of the environmental objectives; it does 'no significant harm' to any of the objectives; it complies with robust and science-based technical screening criteria; and it complies with minimum social and governance safeguards.

The European Commission will be tasked with establishing the actual classification by defining technical screening criteria, in the form of delegated acts, for each relevant environmental objective and sector respectively. The Commission will be assisted by a technical expert group - referred to as the 'platform on sustainable finance' - which will be mandated to provide advice for developing and revising the technical screening criteria.

Researched and written by World Nuclear News